At the Movies: “Angels & Demons” – Let It Be Light

Thou shalt be spoiled if thou persist in reading…

I was curious to see if I was going to enjoy Angels & Demons more than I did its predecessor, The DaVinci Code.  Both have their merits.  DaVinci Code seizes on a fascinating Big Idea and brings you to its astounding truth through some clever clues and one or two predictable double-crosses.  A&D leans more towards thriller than mystery, as the action (far more brutal this time) is incredibly localized in time and space; our heroes’ most ruthless antagonist is the march of time itself.  But when a ticking clock can out-menace your flesh-and-blood villains, something is wrong.

"Oh Lord, please grant us the strength to turn this mundane dialogue into something truly worthy of Your ears."
"Oh Lord, please grant us the strength to turn this mundane dialogue into something truly worthy of Your ears."

This brings me to my biggest complaint with this burgeoning franchise: I feel nothing for these characters.  Tom Hanks takes mild-mannered to dull extremes playing Professor Robert Langdon, skeptic and conspiracy buff at-large.  Since all the clues in Langdon’s mysteries are hundreds of years old and require interpretation, Hanks is reduced to blandly narrating his thought process.  He’s no swashbuckler like Indiana Jones, so running while lecturing is what passes for a Robert Langdon action scene.  His sidekick for A&D is Vittoria Vetra, an Italian scientist played by the beautiful but vacant Ayelet Zurer.  Her involvement in the case seems secondary at best, yet here she is, following at Langdon’s heels.  Her contributions to solving the mystery aren’t believable; I suppose it’s just good fortune that the Vatican managed to find a molecular physicist who also minored in art history, dabbled in pharmacology, and has a voluminous knowledge of her faith and its numerous local landmarks.

The villains (full-fledged or simply misunderstood) fare no better.  Stellan Skarsgard’s Commander Richter is a humorless killjoy who appears to have his head buried so deep in the rules of engagement that I didn’t understand at what point he finally looked up long enough to realize what evil was truly afoot.  Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Cardinal Strauss with such distance and ego that I found his eventual exoneration hardly a relief.  After passing through the crucible, he remains entirely unchanged.  At least these two caused me something beyond just plain befuddlement, as was the case with the movie’s true villains.  The final twist that implicated Ewan McGregor’s Patrick McKenna was daring and unexpected only because, upon re-examining the story’s events, his involvement made no sense. Had the film ended with McKenna’s sacrifice above the Vatican, it certainly would have been a different movie, but it probably would have been a better one.  His enforcer, a fellow reminiscent of Guy Pearce, is done no favors either.  Not only are his connections to McKenna never properly explained, I don’t believe he was ever even given a name.  Here was the only character who aroused any true sense of danger (his three murders are among the most gruesome I’ve recently seen on screen), and they couldn’t even give him a name, let alone a backstory.

As for the story itself, it isn’t any more unbelievable than The DaVinci Code: threats are made against the Catholic Church and all of Vatican City after the sitting pope dies, and Langdon is called in to discern whether or not an ancient secret society is behind the plans to obliterate church leadership.  Sounds juciy and exciting!  In Angels & Demons, however, it’s largely anything but.

~ T

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